Plenty of Hollywood blockbusters, from “Skyfall” to “Mission: Impossible III,” were at least partially filmed in China, as film execs want to continue to appeal to the world’s second-largest movie market – and likely soon to be the biggest. But there haven’t been many Chinese movies that have chosen to shoot in the U.S. – yet.
Chinese actor and director Chen Sicheng is shaking that up, as he’s currently filming his next movie, “Detective Chinatown Vol. 2,” in New York City. And once the film was written, he had little choice – the Big Apple is a central part of its plot.
“The main character kind of tricked our second character, Qin Feng, to come to New York to his wedding to solve a crime,” Chen told TheWrap. “They experience a very fun and very exciting and dangerous adventure.”
The original “Detective Chinatown” took place in Bangkok, but Chen said people wondered why he didn’t film it in New York.
“When I first started to develop the movie, a lot of people actually thought I was going to shoot it in New York, because New York has the largest Chinatown and it was the most symbolic city.”
But after the success of “Detective Chinatown,” which made $125 million at the Chinese box office, Chen was able to take the production for part two on the road. But that came with lessons of its own, best expressed in his simple response when asked what the most memorable thing was about shooting in New York.
“In one word: expensive,” he said. “It’s the most investment in any movie throughout my career but the shortest time frame – only 40 days. I wondered why some of the Hollywood movies are such big budget and how would they spend it. Now I know.”
Still, Chen said it was important to make that investment and deliver a high-quality, Hollywood-level production, because crowds in Shanghai and Hangzhou are increasingly asking for it as China’s industry matures.
“The Chinese movie industry is developing really fast and doing really well,” Chen said. “The audience has a higher standard for the stories.”
And it’s largely Hollywood imports, dozens of which screen every year in the country, that have caused China to step up its game.
“For most of the Chinese audience, they won’t just lower their expectations because they’re Chinese movies,” he said. “More Hollywood movies are showing in China now and the audience has higher standards.”
Next up for Chen is another Chinese movie, and then he plans to start working on the third installment of “Detective Chinatown.” But for now, he’s focused on making “Vol. 2” the best it can be.
And of course, Chen’s ultimate goal is for the film to play well internationally, which has been a struggle for many Chinese films – to the frustration of some of the country’s top film execs. But maybe “Detective Chinatown Vol. 2’s” familiar setting will help it break through.
“I certainly have high hopes,” Chen said. “Not only do I want to appeal to American audience, I also want to appeal to audiences around the world. Because during the golden age of the Hong Kong film industry, the films were popular all around the world.”